Who needs friends when you’ve got amazing games? Treat yourself to these solo experiences that are just as good when you’re the only player at the table
If you're stuck indoors by yourself, or indeed, would like to just lock yourself away for a few hours, then solo gaming might be exactly what you need. It's a popular trend in gaming at the moment, and many of your favourites can now be played solo on your tabletop.
To get you started, here are some of our favourite one player board games.
The Arkham Horror Files series’ roots in scary stories of cosmic nightmares makes the games perfect for playing by yourself. One of the best to solo is this living card game, with a continuous stream of new adventures that delve into the investigators and mysteries of the Lovecraftian universe. The atmospheric setting is backed up by tight cardplay with interesting decisions and unpredictable twists, with loads of replayability when you die or go insane – which will happen. Each scenario isn’t very long, but you’ll quickly find yourself drawn back into the horror – it’s the Netflix binge-watch of gaming.
Does it play well with others? Yes, as do the rest of the solo-friendly Arkham Horror Files games – though there’s something to be said to facing the nightmares alone.
Mage Knight is an absolute beast of a game, a sprawling mixture of fantasy RPG, crunchy Eurogame and deep deckbuilder. Vlaada Chvátil’s multifaceted gameplay is part of its brilliance, but it can mean that the brain-busting strategy slows things down with more people around the table. Luckily, its solo mode is arguably the best way to experience the game’s puzzle-like combat, offering up a randomised map and enemies for a fresh challenge every time.
Does it play well with others? You can play Mage Knight multiplayer out of the box, but more people can lengthen the game – it shines best with just one person.
There’s something about being stuck on an island that inspires excellent single-player games. Friedemann Friese’s take on the classic story of Robinson Crusoe dedicates itself to a solitaire experience, as you build up a deck of cards to eke out a living on the island until you’re able to defeat bothersome pirates and escape for good. Overcoming dangers lets Robinson build up his strength, with the player refining their deck of fight cards over the course of the half-hour game. Short, challenging and showcasing some of the best that solo gaming has to offer, Friday is a definitive Desert Island Game.
Does it play well with others? Not really – you could technically play co-op, but Friday is a solo-only game for a reason. For a similar island survival feel with friends, try Robinson Crusoe.
Scythe’s Automa mode was a breath of fresh air upon its release, offering up a dynamic and smart game-controlled opponent that felt more like a real player than many single-player experiences on the tabletop to date. The solo mode is a notably different affair to Scythe’s multiplayer, but is no less intense, with challenges unique to the Automa AI and an adjustable level of difficulty to provide plenty of replayability. Whether you use it to practise your play styles for Scythe’s different factions or simply to indulge in Jamey Stegmaier’s slick strategy hit, Automa is awesome.
Does it play well with others? Absolutely – Scythe’s solo mode is mightily impressive, but it’s still not quite a match for real human players.
Plenty of roll-and-writes can be enjoyed alone without needing to compromise the gameplay of their multiplayer mode too much. Ganz Schön Clever’s high score-besting one-player challenge is among the most addictive, turning the dice-picking gem into a test of luck and efficiency. As in the multiplayer game, you pick dice one at a time, crossing out boxes in the colour-coded sections to rack up points in different ways, while using your rerolls and extra die bonuses carefully. Fast and thinky, the solo mode is especially hard to put down in Ganz Schön Clever’s mobile app version, which does all the maths for you. That IS so clever.
Does it play well with others? Like a lot of roll-and-writes, Ganz Schön Clever’s multiplayer mode isn’t seeped in player interaction, but its dice-drafting core makes for a different puzzle when it’s other players limiting your options instead of you.
Isaac Childres’ epic RPG-in-a-box is perfect for tackling alone, with its Euro-style card combat and legacy storytelling coming together to offer a DM-less dungeon-crawler with hours upon hours of challenging adventures to be had. As well as the extensive content in the main box, Childres has since released a separate book featuring more than a dozen scenarios designed specifically for solo play, leaning into Gloomhaven’s excellence as a one-person experience.
Does it play well with others? 100%. Like embarking on an epic D&D campaign, playing as a party for tens of hours in Gloomhaven leaves you with plenty of shared stories and the collaborative challenge of working together to overcome tough battles.
Inspired by classic choose-your-own-adventure gamebooks, The 7th Continent throws you into a mysterious land in search of a way to lift a terrible curse. The co-op game is just as engrossing in its solo mode, with its vast library of cards inviting session after session of exploration, peril and discovery. The tension of surviving dangers using your wits and ingenuity – crafting tools and weapons with things you find along the way – is raised by doing it all alone, although the option to control two characters by yourself can help make things a little easier if necessary.
Does it play well with others? To a point. The 7th Continent can be played with a bigger group, but it’s best with just one or two people, keeping those around the table fully engaged in the immersive experience.
Deserted island? Check. Lone survivor? Check. Struggle to survive? Check. Robinson Crusoe takes the quintessential story of survival and turns it into the quintessential survival board game. Shipwrecked on the cursed isle, the player must scrape together the resources they need to keep on living, from ramshackle shelters and food to the weapons needed to fend off some of the island’s less welcoming creatures. From its already impressive central drama, Ignacy Trzewiczek’s adventurous survival sim spins out into all manner of mystery and intrigue – giving you plenty to discover while you await rescue.
Does it play well with others? It might take away from the feeling of surviving alone on an island a bit, but Robinson Crusoe scales very comfortably to suit more players. Just be wary that with more mouths to feed, it’s a different kind of challenge!
Subverting the typical gaming theme of island colonisation in its portrayal of deities driving away invaders, Spirit Island’s intensely collaborative multiplayer scales down beautifully to a single-player challenge. With its roster of spirits presenting a breadth of play styles to experiment with and its deck of event cards throwing up a different puzzle to crack each time – not to mention the intuitive way its modular map adjusts the size of the board to suit – Spirit Island is just as rich and complex whether you’re part of a pantheon or ominpotent alone.
Does it play well with others? Yep! Spirit Island is an outstanding co-op game for those looking for a step up from the likes of Pandemic. With different spirits to try each time you play, it’s pretty much perfect no matter how many people you’re playing with.
As sobering and terrifyingly realistic as the PC game it closely emulates, This War of Mine’s depiction of daily life in a warzone is not an easy experience. It’s one well worth having, though, with the struggles and stories of its characters swept up in the Siege of Sarajevo landing with a devastating level of emotional heft. Its origins as a single-player PC game come through in the meaningful decision-making and branching narrative paths of the campaign; involving more players is possible, but can begin to detract from the powerful resonance of facing it alone.
Does it play well with others? Not as well as you’d like. This War of Mine makes for a memorable time whether you’re alone or with others. But the multiplayer rules feel a bit tacked-on, leaving some players with little to do – it’s better by yourself.
Original article by Matt Jarvis
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